Audio News Conference: First Ever Study of Post-Roe v. Wade Anti-Choice Measures Reveals Broad Consequences for Pregnant Women

On January 15 at 11:00 ET RH Reality Check hosted an audio news conference for journalists and bloggers on the first ever comprehensive, peer-reviewed study offering a groundbreaking, in-depth look at criminal and civil cases in which a woman’s pregnancy led to her arrest, imprisonment, or other deprivations of liberty.

Listen to a recording of the news conference here:

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The study, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973– 2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health” was published Tuesday, January 15th in the peer-reviewed Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

The one-of-a-kind study identifies 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 and 2005. (The authors cited evidence indicating the existence of a significant number of additional cases.)  In each of the 413 cases, pregnancy was a necessary element and the consequences included: arrests; incarceration; increases in prison or jail sentences; detentions in hospitals, mental institutions and drug treatment programs; and forced medical interventions, including surgery.

The study examines key characteristics of the cases and the women (including socioeconomic status and race) and reveals the role that health care providers played in facilitating actions against pregnant women. Analysis of the legal claims used to justify these arrests found that they relied on post-Roe measures such as feticide laws and the same arguments made in support of so called “personhood” measures namely, that state actors should be empowered to treat fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as completely legally separate from the pregnant woman.

While the study shows that low-income women and African American women are more likely to be deprived of their physical liberty, it also confirms that these state interventions are happening in every region of the country and affect women of all races.

As “personhood” measures continue to be promoted in state legislatures and in Congress, and as we observe the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this study broadens the conversation from one just about abortion to one about health policy and the legal status of pregnant women.

Speaker Details

Lynn M. Paltrow, JD is the founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She is lead author of the study as well as the author of a recent commentary in the American Journal of Public Health: “Roe v. Wade and the New Jane Crow: Reproductive Rights in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”

Jeanne Flavin, PhD is professor of sociology at Fordham University and the study’s co-author. Her work examines gender, crime, and reproductive justice. She is the author of the award-winning book Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America (2009), as well as more than two dozen other scholarly publications. She is the recipient of a 2009 Fulbright award and the 2013 Sociologists for Women in Society’s Feminist Activism Award. She is also president of NAPW’s board of directors.

Colleen Grogan, PhD is a professor at the University of Chicago and Editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law. Her work examines the political evolution of the American health care system and the role of democratic participation in health policy decision-making. Her current book project is titled Health Policy by Stealth: America’s Hidden Health Care State, and she is co-author of Health Voices, Unhealthy Silence: Advocacy and Health Care for the Poor (2007).